My friend was browsing at a Goodwill outside Atlanta, when she spotted a book (Really Bad Girls of the Bible) she had been wanting to read. Later, imagine her surprise when she saw a short note from the previous owner, tucked carefully between the pages. Except… it wasn’t from the owner, but the previous owner’s husband.
It wasn’t long, just 7 sentences. And it was stumbling and awkward in spots. But it was clearly one average husband’s attempt to put into writing his love for his wife.
I think so much of you as a wife and as a mother. I know how much you have sacrificed over the years raising two beautiful children with your loving heart.
But I also want you to know that I admire you as my wife and my friend and my lover. I do long for time alone with you, not wanting to share you with everyone. I long for our time together where we will talk, not about the kids or the next bill to be paid, but of our lives together.
You are my beautiful flower and I hope I will get better at “watering” you with my love and being more kind to you. I hope I can continue to give you a life and a partner that you can love more deeply.
So sweet, right? We romantics might sigh, “I wish my husband would do that…”
But do we really?
Here’s where we have to look closer at what this vulnerable husband was really saying – and wonder: how would we respond?
What was he really saying?: “I’m so sorry.”
There’s no way to really know, of course. But when I looked more closely at this note, I realized: this might have been serious. This might have been a deep, gut-wrenching apology.
The more I read it, the more I picture a wife who has finally told her husband: I am feeling unloved. We don’t spend time together, except to talk about the bills or the kids. I feel like you don’t care about me. You’re not kind; you snap at me.
She might even have told him she has shut down. Or even that she doesn’t know if she wants to go on. He pours out his grief and his longing: “I hope I can continue to give you a life and a partner that you can love more deeply.”
What was he thinking? “I love her so, so much!”
I picture this man sitting down and trying to convey on paper, just how much he loves his wife.
In our research about men, one of the clearest pieces of data was how much men adore their wives… and wonder how on earth to help them realize that. Yes, the men often work a lot. Yes, they get stressed. Yes they can get myopic about whether they are getting enough overtime to pay the bills, and can totally miss that their wife is feeling lonely, discouraged, and turning to girlfriends or kids’ activities for companionship and comfort. But most men adore their wives.
And men in troubled relationships may not even realize how serious it is for their wives — because they just assume things will be fine. Not because the men don’t care enough to listen and watch (which is what a hurting wife might assume), but because they simply don’t realize how much even the most secure-looking wife is secretly wondering “Am I loveable?” And “Does he really love me?” Most men don’t have those sorts of questions themselves, and truly don’t realize that their wives do. They don’t know their beautiful, beloved wife has those questions every day–and needs to hear the answer every day.
(Instead, statistically, a man’s hidden question is usually “Am I adequate to the task… such as providing for the family?” Hence the myopic focus on overtime. Which his wife doesn’t understand, because she is less likely to have that hidden question!)
What was she (and what are we) willing to do in the midst of hurt?
If that love note really was an apology, I wonder how that wife handled it. And it makes me wonder: how do I handle it? How do we?
Do we believe in the truth of our man’s love, despite the hurt? Or do we let the hurt define what we believe to be true about his love?
Certainly, there are sad cases where one spouse truly is abusive or doesn’t have goodwill toward his wife (or a wife toward her husband, for that matter!). But those situations are rare. And looking at this from the outside, most of us look at that letter and say to ourselves: he clearly loves her! I hope she gave him another chance! I hope they worked it out!
But what it really comes down to is: I hope she believed him.
Are we willing to hold ourselves to that standard? In our research on what creates happy marriages, that was one of the most important factors. Do we believe the best of our spouse’s intentions toward us, even when we’re hurt? We can have hard conversations (which this wife presumably did), and we can and should create and hold boundaries when needed. But we also need to hold ourselves to a standard of assuming this truth: I know my husband loves me. I know he cares about me. So I know we can work this out.
Your husband and mine may not write love letters. But we can still believe in his love. As I hope this wife did.
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Shaunti Feldhahn loves sharing eye-opening information that helps people thrive in life and relationships. She herself started out with a Harvard graduate degree and Wall Street credentials but no clue about life. After an unexpected shift into relationship research for average people like her, she now is a popular speaker and author of best-selling books about men, women and relationships. (Including For Women Only, For Men Only, and the groundbreaking The Good News About Marriage).
Her latest book, Find Peace: A 40-day Devotional Journey For Moms, focuses on discovering biblical direction to become a woman of serenity and delight in all seasons – and have impact for generations to come.
Visit www.shaunti.com for more.